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Inscape Magazine
2024 Edition


The Professor

The Professor
Devon Ewing

     The child wandered across the sunless, ashen wastes. Past the dead trees, the windswept
piles of grey dirt, and the browning, foul-smelling rivers that carried the dead downstream.
Ripping through the expanse, the shrieking gales swirled the dark clouds, and the child drew
their brown cloak tighter around themselves, covering their face. They struggled to lift their
mud-crusted, bloodied feet off the ground, reopening the puss-filled wounds with each snagged
branch or rock, stumbling forward, each time forcing themselves back up, clutching the cloak
until their hands went white.
     Cresting a hill, the child slouched against the tree husk and gazed into the valley. Across a
plain of bear traps, barbed wire, and conspicuous piles of leaves was a shack. A crooked,
leaning, skeletal thing, light leaking from between its boards and mold-eaten rooftiles.
     With a resounding crash, thunder shook the child to their feet. Behind, the storm only grew
closer. They could see the distant rain and the steam that came from the trees as they writhed.
     The child lurched down the hill. Withdrawing a long stick, they tapped the ground before
them as they crept hurriedly to the building. Hitting each patch of fresh dirt and long-dark leaves,
they watched without response as metal jaws snapped from the ground, nearly slicing their tool
in two. The leaves gave way to pits, lined with meticulously sharpened wooden spikes. Avoiding
any more trees, the child progressed until they reached the shack, their stick now badly gashed.
     As the child raised their hand, they hesitated. Inside, there was the sound of movement,
banging into a table, quiet cursing. Outside, the thunder grew louder.
     The child knocked twice.
     The noise ceased, followed by a rapid rushing to the door. Lock after lock was undone,
clanking out of place, as the man, visible through the wall’s gaps, kept fumbling with the tougher
ones. He threw open the door, the metal hinges protesting with a shrill whine.
     He was rancid. His layers of brown clothing were stained with mud and food and grime,
tattered and patched, sometimes over previous patches worn through. His grey hair was filthy,
infested with visible, crawling bugs, and he scratched his neck with jagged, cracked fingernails,
ignoring the dirt underneath.
     “Well?” he demanded. “Who are you? What brings you here?”
     The child clutched their stick and studied the floor.
     Huffing, the man stepped aside and waved them in. “Always more of you...Unable to fend
for yourselves...”
     Slowly, the child placed one foot across the threshold, mud sticking to the floor.
     Seizing them by the shoulders, the man shoved the child forward, seating them at the table
before they could catch their breath. “You’ll clean that up, understand?!” he said, thrusting his
finger at the mess dragged in.
     The child nodded.
     And the man resumed his work, fluttering between a pot of enticing, bubbling gruel and a
table cluttered with wooden contraptions.
     The child could see the laundry left to dry on fabric strands crisscrossing above their heads.
Light and wind stabbed through the slits in the wall, and as the thunder intensified, the rain
began. Its assault beat against the shack, and they could see the green liquid seeping through the
cracks, beginning to eat the wood where it hit. Beneath every ceiling hole and pooling by every
point of exposure to the outside were darkened indents, their chemical smell stinging the child’s
nose. As rain dripped inside, it steamed, burning the ground away.
     “Mind the rain,” said the man. “You get used to it.” Sidestepping a constant drip of acid, he
set two bowls at the table, shoving one towards them.
     They ate in silence, hearing only the passing storm ripping through the valley.
     When they finished, the man said, “You will call me the Professor. Tomorrow, when the
storm has passed, we will need to reset many of the traps outside. You will help me with that to
pay off the food and shelter that I did not need to provide you. In exchange, maybe you’ll learn
sometime of value, eh?”
     The child hugged their knees tightly, tapping their stick on the table.
     “You’re now my student. Get some rest.”
     In the morning, the storm had passed them by. The soil was still muddy, the tree husks still
damp and raw, and the few traps still visible had sunken into the ground.
     The Professor flicked out a map and snapped it into the student’s hand. “Look here.”
Pointing to the scroll, he said, “This is where the traps are. Memorize it. Then stick with me until
you get the hang of disarming and resetting them. Understand?” His voice was gruff, and the
student stared at the greying stubble on his chin.
     Before the student could take in the map, completely covered in scribbles and brief
explanations, the Professor snatched it back.
     “That’s enough. Let’s begin.” As he took his own walking stick and began to tap the
ground in a wide arc before him, the student, still draped in their baggy cloak, shoeless, followed
in his wake. This went on for a few hours, until the student lost track of time. The sky was still
grey, the sun unseen, the landscape lifeless. “The puddles still burn,” the Professor chided. “So
keep your eyes on the ground.”
     The student looked back down.
     With one tap, the Professor set off a trap that clamped its metal jaws around the staff,
cracking it in two. “Aargh!” The Professor threw his staff into the mud, curling his nose.
Grumbling furiously, he began to dig the trap out. Waving the student over, hitting the metal
frame over and over, together they lifted with their knees until the contraption was free.
     The Professor brushed the gunk away with his hands gently, examining the mechanisms.
“Still works,” he whispered. He cranked a lever, and the trap’s jaws disengaged, slowly lowering
back to their waiting state.
     “I’m sure you’re curious, aren’t you?” Flashing yellow teeth, the Professor leered at the
student, who shrunk back, hiding under their hood. “Why we do all this? Why the traps? You
want to know, I’m sure.”
     The student, wavering, rubbing their thumbs, nodded.
     “Well!” barked the Professor, breaking into a smile. “Nature isn’t natural. You think the
rain is supposed to burn? You think everywhere is supposed to be dead and dusty? No. These
environments-” He hoisted the trap back into the soaked ground with a dull plop, sighing once
he’d finished. “Are made.”
     Picking up his staff, he resumed his tapping, the student right beside him.
     “There are some species that make the environment their weapon,” said the Professor. “The
gumgum frogs absorb the acid rain into their skin and then circulate it through their skin to deter
predators and absorb minor nutrients. They are suited to their realm. We’re different. We
made...this.” He gestured around to the wastes. “And we aren’t suited for it. So now we have to
change it.”
     The student’s foot grazed a pile of leaves. With a sudden whoosh and zipping cables, a
trebuchet swung its arm upward, stabbing its blade into their shoulder. Yelping, stumbling but
unable to break free, the student cried out, beating the wooden beam as blood trickled down their
     “Imbecile!” The Professor slapped them across the face, jerking them free from the trap. “I
showed you where they were! Were you not listening!?”
     The student sniffled, whimpering as they clutched their open wound, staining their cloak.
     “Throw some mud in it,” he snapped, resetting the trebuchet. “Bandage it and keep
moving.” He’d resumed his trek before the student had finished.
     “As I was saying before I was interrupted,” mumbled the Professor. “We must make our
environment suited to us. That is why we have the traps. We must remake the land in our image,
take it for ourselves, and-what are you doing?”
     Looking up, eyes wide, the student stumbled away from the trebuchet, now uncovered from
its leaf pile. It was a crude machine, wooden beams lashed together, one blade tied haphazardly
to the long end, snapping up.
     The Professor walked back. “Yes, this is the trap. Happy now? Seen enough? Let’s get
     But the student grabbed his arm, tugging. Glairing down, the Professor sighed. “Very well.
We make the environment suited to us. Hence, the traps. These are our tools to sustain ourselves.
These are knowledge. Not knowing where the traps are, but the traps themselves. They’re
knowledge. Understand?”
     The student stared blankly.
     “Of course not,” sighed the Professor. “You still haven’t bandaged your arm,” he sang in
annoyance, pushing onwards.
     They searched for more traps, tapping with their walking sticks.
     Stabbing at a crumbled cluster of leaves, the student shoved into a deep hole.
     “There. Not bad.” The Professor leaned over it. Grabbing leaves from nearby, all orange
and brown, stinking of rot, he arranged them over the pit. “By the way...”
     The student looked up, their hands full of leaves, but he refused to meet their eyes. “There
is another student of older one, somewhere out there...if you find him, do run away.
He isn’t safe.”
     Together, they finished covering the pit and resumed scouring the field.
     It wasn’t until later, deep into the night, after the meager dinner, that the Professor saw the
student again when they set sometime bulky atop the table.
     The Professor sat up, studying it. “What’s this then?”
     But the student only stared back, their expression hidden, their shoulder still stained dark
     Upon further inspection, it was entirely clear what it was. A trebuchet. Not a mud soaked,
mold hollowed, lashed together trebuchet. But a solid one, built with interlocking wooden
beams, carved crudely but, he could not deny, with some measure of skill. There was a slot for
the blade to be locked into, currently empty. No ropes, no rotted wood, no haphazard forcing
     “Is this yours?”
     The student nodded.
     Letting out a huff, shaking his head, the Professor said. “Well, this is simply unacceptable.
Where are the ropes? No blade?” Grabbing one beam, he yanked it free, jerking it from its
interlinked whole.
     Crying out, the student reached for it, but the Professor held them back.
     “No, the wood is not worn enough. Inexperienced.” He pulled another beam free, and
another, another, jerking, tearing it apart. Beam after beam, throwing them as a pile of carved
wood at the student’s feet. “Real trebuchets have ropes and blades. Not this nonsense! Get out.
You’ll sleep under the sky tonight.”
     And the Professor cast them outside, slamming the door behind them.
     The student, rubbing their wound and shivering from the cold, managed to stand and
wander away for shelter.
     The dark made it almost impossible to avoid traps, so the student crawled slowly, tapping
the ground before them. In time, they made it up the valley to the slouching tree and nestled
against its trunk. Shivering, cringing at the shrill wind, its constant, unmitigated screaming, the
student draped their cloak around them, covering their exposed feet.
     “Rough night?”
     The student stumbled away, swinging their battered staff wildly, glancing at everything.
     The voice was coarse but quiet. “No need to be so jumpy.”
     Only when the student looked up did they see him. A man perched in the tree. Ravens
clustered around him, watching silently, shrouding his form, their outer feathers badly burned
from the rain. He wore dark, unburnt clothes, his white teeth shone in the night, and he was
obviously muscular, far too muscular for someone so lithe and flexible, so far off the ground.
     “Did you find the Professor I told you about?”
     Hesitating, the student nodded.
     “And I suppose he’s revealed everything about the world?” chuckled the man. When the
student looked away, the man clambered about in the trees, his birds accompanying him like a
perpetual cloud. “No?”
     The student mirrored the man’s movement, keeping him away.
     He laughed. “You’ll find he does that. He can be rather temperamental. Making you
something, casting you out...making you patrol the land around his home forever...”
     Sitting down, the student clutched their head, still shivering.
     “I hope you’re accumulating all sorts of knowledge!” The man laughed boisterously. “Look
at you. A regular book repository! Hahaha!” Climbing nearer, his teeth and eyes sending the
student rising, backpeddling to their heels, he whispered, “You know what you should do? Go
back to him tomorrow. Apologize. And ask to see more of his traps. He’ll love to show you
     With that, he returned to his perch atop the trees.
     “I’m going hunting tomorrow. My birds are hungry. If they’re not gorged on whatever I
find and you’re still around...” He clicked his tongue. “I wouldn’t want to be you.”
     The wind howled as the student sat alone.
     When morning came, the student searched for the man. After a few minutes of looking,
they caught sight of him near the horizon, beating a collection of predators to death, laughing
wildly. With each swing of his arm, ravens swooped down at his command, tearing chunks of
their prey’s flesh away.
     Rubbing their thumbs, the student turned back. They were rabbits. Dozens of birds and the
man bearing down on a handful of rabbits.
     So the student ran. Crisscrossing through the mud plain, following the cleared path where
the Professor’s footsteps remained, the student returned to the shack, fumbling with the handle.
     They flung the door open, rushed inside, and ran headlong into the trebuchet’s swinging
blade with a wet thud and spray of scarlet.
     It was facing the door, its interlocking wooden pieces slotted firmly together. There was a
knife, gently and intentionally placed into the slot at the arm’s end.
     The student went limp, the knife keeping the body from collapsing entirely. Slouching,
their soles slipping off the ground, their body dragged the trebuchet forward, tipping until it
steadied precariously, leaving the student halfway splayed out across the ground, the trebuchet
slanted, blood dripping to the floor.
     “No, no, no!” The Professor was at the student’s side in moments, striking them across the
head with his staff. “Imbecile! It’s the oldest trick, the most obvious! Fool!” He beat the student.
Swinging, crying out madly, he shattered the trebuchet and pummeled the body that fell
unhindered to the shack’s floor. He hit again and again until his staff was broken, only a
hand-length stick that he discarded. “You idiot,” snarled the Professor. “You should have been
     Grabbing the trebuchet in one hand and the corpse in the other, he kicked open the door and
flung them both into the wastes where they thudded and sank into the mud. The Professor
slammed the door behind him.
     There, tiptoeing between piles of leaves and recently smoothed mud, the man of ravens
crept towards the student until they were leering over them, taking in their condition with a
smile. The shroud of birds fluttered around his shoulders, back, and head, tilting their faces so
their eyes could observe the meal.
     “Looks like my birds’ll eat anyhow. Thank you.” His deep, harsh voice eerily reverent, he
looked at the shack and smiled, showing his perfect teeth. The ravens cawed impatiently. “My


My Mistake, My Nightmare

My Mistake, My Nightmare

Brynesha Griffin-Bey

My chest restricts and constricts painfully as I try to suck in a breath. With my tear stained face, I
probably look the facade of a child, but I can’t stop crying or trying. It feels like the world, my
world that was seemingly perfect before, is burning to ashes before me. He stares at me, and I’m
scared, because I can’t read his expression, even though I wish to. Whimpering, I try to take his
hand in mine, and he lets me. There’s a start.

Hiccuping, I attempt to level my breathing in order to speak to him, because I need to do that. He
watches me, and as I look at him closer, search into his soul a little bit better, I catch a glimpse of
something. It’s so frustrating, because I see it, but I can’t identify it. I start to panic, but I
swallow before it can rise up and take over the limited space I have in my chest. My heart throbs
painfully, and I want to grip my chest, but I grip my hold on his hand.

“Please...” I choke, clear my throat and try again. “Please... I made a mistake. But you have to
understand, I love you. No matter what and overall, I love you. That’s not changing.” He nods,
confirming that he’s hearing my words. But, I doubt after what I did to him, he’ll forgive me. I
hate it and I doubt it, and I feel bile creeping at the back of my throat. Tears cloud my vision yet
again. “I’m not crying for show, I genuinely regret. I have such a strong regret, because I care for
you. I love you. Please...”

His eyes stare into mine. His gaze is dark, but not unfriendly. Hurt, but not vengeful. Pained, but
not targeted. He takes a deep breath, which I want to do so bad, but can’t until I hear his voice in
response. He shifts his weight, leaning closer into me. I feel his warm breath on my cheek. I
close my eyes and let my tears fall. They run profusely, and they are uncomfortably hot. Softly,
he wipes a tear away with his thumb, dragging it carefully underneath my eye. “I’m a human.
You’re a human. Mistakes are natural and they happen...” He swallows thickly before continuing

“We all make mistakes. They happen, right?” I nod profusely, like my tears which are still
streaming despite his efforts to place a careful cap on them. “Well, I want you to know that this
specific mistake hurt me a lot. I-“ He attempts to swallow again, but this time instead of his
Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat, tears trickle down his cheeks. The heart throbbing in my
chest breaks, and right then and there, I promise myself to do anything I can, each and every day,
to regain his trust, if he happens to forgive me, that is. My shattered heart breaks into smaller and
sharper bits, stabbing my insides.

“It hurt me, dear.” Again, I can’t read his expression plainly enough to tell if he says dear with a
venom on his tongue, or as a lilting, tilting passionate pet name like it usually is for me. Like it
used to be for me. But, softly, he circles his index finger on my wrist on the hand that he’s
holding, and the softness of it tears me apart. He cries, I cry, yet he continues on with what he
has to say to me. What he has to tell me. “But, I love you too. I do. Maybe we will need to spend
some time apart to digest this, but I love you dear. And I won’t stop.”

Drastically, I fall into his chest, staining his shirt with tears. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
He didn’t say the words I forgive you, yet he did say he loves me, present tense. The forgiveness
will take time. But the fact that he has enough grace in his heart to speak to me after what I did,
to look at me, to let me speak to him. I think back to all of the other fights and petty arguments
we’ve had, and how he’s always the one to extend his hand out to me. He is always the one to
step forwards first, apologizing and offering to bury the hatchet, even when I’m the one who
started the drama.

And even now, when I don’t deserve his naturally loving nature, he wraps his arms around me,
holds me, loves me.


The Tall White Chapel

The Tall White Chapel

Brian Woodall

     Growing up Ma always told me that Jesus is with us at every turn telling us to do the
right thing, and that God has a plan for all of us. I wonder if that's what she thought when our
step dad would take his alcohol infused anger out on us. Or perhaps she told herself that when
she took home random men from the club she worked at. Although it’s been quite some time that
she went to church or said anything about Jesus, or God, maybe she gave up on them. Hell
maybe even Jesus thought she was a lost cause. Tomorrow would be my 15th birthday, tomorrow
is also the day I'm gonna take my little brother Jace and get out of this shitty little apartment on
this broken street. As I lay on the floor thinking about how tomorrow would play out I peered my
eyes over to the cracked clock on the dirty walls and read that it said 2:48. I guess that it was
already my birthday, “ happy birthday ” I whispered to myself. My eyes then shot over to Jace
who had wrapped himself in an old blanket and was snoring his heart, it made me crack a smile.
     As I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to sleep I walked to the corner of the room and
grabbed my jacket. I paused for a moment thinking about when I got the jacket, it was one of the
only birthday gifts I ever got. I got it last year when I told my buddy Tyrone that I was turning 14
soon, he told me to meet up at the hideout and we’d have a little celebration. I still ain't sure how
I got into the group. I met Ty by chance one day when he noticed me leaning against the wall in
an alley near my apartment. I was out there one night when I couldn’t sleep. I'm not sure what he
was doing out there still, but I honestly don’t care. Everyone in the group was older than me by a
fair bit, they were all about 18 to 21 except for Ty who was 23. I Think about that day of the
party a lot, Ty even told me to bring my little brother which made me smile for the first time in a
while hearing that he would do that stuff not just for me but my brother too. It wasn’t just Tyrone
that was at the ragtag celebration: Trey, Derrick, Paulie, Juan, and his girlfriend Emilia. When I
got there that night I found myself excited for the day to happen although my little brother was
confused at why we weren’t at school. The “party” itself went fine there was some sodas and
beers, and a few snacks that were probably bought with the 5 finger discount. Once we got done
with the snacks and drinks, then came the gifts. Juan handed me 10$, Trey gave me a big thing of
M&M’s, Derrick gave me a switchblade knife, and of course Tyrone gave me the jacket.
     I snapped out of my trance and realized I had been staring at my jacket for a few minutes.
I felt the pocket of the jacket do see if Derrick’s knife was still in there, and it was. I walked over
to the window to climb down and head over to the hideout to see if anyone was there. I peered
over at my brother to see him sound asleep with his little stuffed bear that Emilia gave me to give
to him once she heard I had a little brother. Following the dimly lit streets passing failed shops
and restaurants it seemed this street was haunted with failure, and I was no exception. Doomed to
go nowhere in life I never was smart enough to make it in school, I do have enough street smarts
to survive so I guess there’s that. I barely realized that I had arrived at the Hideout, a long
abandoned corner store that Tyrone made a home out of about a year before I met him. I walked
over to the window that was always unlocked and hopped in to find Tyrone, and Derrick playing
a game of poker. As I got closer I realized they were just betting candy bars and snacks, as I let
out a forced laugh Tyrone leaned back and looked at me
“ Want to join in?” he asked plainly
“ Sure ain't got nothing better to do”
     I sat down realizing I didn’t have anything to bet but felt a nudge on my shoulder to see
Derrick handing me 2 chocolate bars with a slight smile. I smiled back at him and we played for
about an hour with some idle talk not really caring who won or lost it was mainly just something
to twiddle our fingers with while we talked the night away. After an hour I found myself back in
reality of what I was going to do. My expression tensed and a scowl grew on my face.
“ Something on your mind?” Ty asked
“ Today I’m gonna take my little brother and get the hell out of dodge.”
     I saw Ty sit up and look over at Derrick, to find a small hint of worry on his face.
“ What’s going on dude” Derrick asked concerned
“ I don’t got much of a future, and I’ve accepted that but my little bro still has a chance to be
something, but not while living in that shithole.”
Tyrone’s usual stoic face seemed to wane for a moment only to bounce back right after. He
looked over at Derrick and nodded his head, and then walked over to a cabinet, pulled out an old
bag and then sat back down he put the bag on the table there, and pulled out a wad of cash and
handed it to me then told me
“ Keep in touch, you know where to find us if shit hits the fan somehow”
Then I saw Derrick walk over to an old closet and pull out a backpack.
“ It ain’t much but it’ll help ya get around”
     It felt good to know that someone had my back even when it felt like whatever shitty god
was out there hated me. Shortly after I started walking back to the shithole apartment on the
street of failure. I climbed up the outside stairs to get in at the window only to find that it was
locked. “Did Jace lock it?” I couldn't tell because the blinds were closed so I sighed as I hopped
back down to the street and went in the entrance to the apartment and made my way to the
second floor to the room. As I made my way to the door I realized it wasn’t locked. Figures,
Ma’s probably passed out drunk in the arms of whatever man she brought home. I don’t care
where that jackass of a husband she has is either, but if they won’t even lock the door that puts
me and Jace in danger. I guess I should count myself lucky though because I was the one
breaking into the apartment. As I walked over to the room my nose was hit with the strong scent
of alcohol, I stepped back and walked over to the living room to see that jackass passed out with
that shitty old TV on with a broken bottle on the floor.
“ That ass hole is so dumb he doesn’t even realize he broke his drink”
     I thought to myself staring at the bottle, but a closer look made me question it, the bottle
was missing its bottom half but there were no shards of glass on the floor or anywhere for that
matter. Then I noticed what appeared to be a faint stain of red on the bottle. I felt uneasy looking
at it, but tried to ignore it. He probably hit whatever sleazy guy Ma brought home then passed
out on the couch. I walked over to the bedroom to go lay down, and wait for my little brother to
wake up. But as I got into the room something was off. Jace wasn’t snoring anymore, but he was
still laying down on the mattress. I went to go see if he was awake, and just didn’t get up, but as I
got closer I heard a crack under my shoe to find broken shards of glass littering the floor. My
eyes filled with horror as I sprinted over to Jace and pulled the blanket off of him to see that the
mattress was covered in blood and Jace had broken shards of glass still in his head. I felt to see if
he was still breathing... he wasn’t. My head was racing so much that I fell down, and started to
feel overcome with confusion as I remembered the red stain on the bottle. My confusion was
quickly morphed into something between anger and sadness. I grabbed Jace, and held him close
to me to try sense the slightest hint of life in him.
“ You... you can’t be gone, right?”
     I started to sob uncontrollably it felt as if part of me was taken to never be returned.
“ No! You’re not gone, you’re just unconscious right? Ty... Ty will know what to do I’ll go find
     I picked up Jace with strength I never knew I had and just ran. I ran out the door looking
back a single time with tears welling up in my face I tried to muster up words of anger or sadness
to scream but found myself unable to speak a word. Gotta get to Ty I kept going through my
head as I sprinted down the road sidewalk back to the hideout passing the junkees unconscious in
the alley’s that lined the shitty streets of the “Motor City”. After what felt like running for an
eternity even though the hideout was less than a mile away. I arrived at the hideout and damn
near jumped through the window to get inside. I found myself out of energy just as I made it
inside the building. I called out for help, and then saw Derrick, Trey, and Ty all come running
around the corner.
“ What the hell happened?!” Ty said with a mix of concern and anger
“ It was him... It was all his fault” I said with a trembling voice
     With tears welling in my eyes I looked up at the only people I have ever called friends to
see their faces twisted with what seemed to be rage. As I broke down even further I felt a hand
on my shoulder, and was jerked away from Jace as Ty embraced me with a hug all while
“ He won’t get away with this, I’ll make sure of it”
     As Ty slowly pried me off of him my eyes shot over to Jace who had been set on the
couch, it almost seemed like he did it himself. Then I saw Derrick come around the corner
holding a bag and motioned for Trey to follow him. Ty told me to stay here Juan would be here
soon, and would help me.
“ Why can’t you guys help me?” I asked with my voice still in pieces
“ Because with what we’re about to do we can’t have you caught up in it” Trey said in almost
kind manner
     Ty put his hand on my shoulder again and told me
“ He won’t hurt nobody again, I promise you that.”
“ What... what do I do about Jace....” I Muttered
“ We’ll take care of him, dude It’s about time we do something right” Ty said while forcing a
     As silent tears rolled down my face I quietly accepted what had happened, and sat down
in the fetal position with my misty eyes occasionally looking to glance at Jace. About 10 minutes
later Juan showed up with Emilia. I stood up slowly and walked over to them. It seemed like my
body was just moving on its own as I did it though. Emilia quickly embraced me, and I felt a
sense of comfort it felt like the motherly hug I forgot about long ago.
“ Everything’s gonna be alright Niño” She said in her comforting voice
     After Emilia ended her embrace Juan walked up and handed me a duffel bag, and told me
“ This stuff will help ya get by on your own, don’t look back that punto will pay for what he did”
     As if on cue I heard 3 gunshots from come from the direction of the apartment I realized
Juan, and Emilia heard them to
“ Go get the hell out of here hermano” Juan said with concern
“ Whe... where do I go?” I muttered out
“ Head up the street to the north, and take the next bus out of town” Emilia said
     As I grabbed the bag preparing to go I turned back one last time to see the two of them
force smile’s as they told me to go. I made my way to the bus stop and sat down and waited for
the bus to come. It didn’t take long for the bus to arrive. When it did I got on it without saying a
word to anyone on it, and sat down. As I felt the bus start again I forced myself to close my eyes
hoping to wake up from this nightmare that I had been living through for years. “When did it all
start” I thought to myself, forcing myself to hold back the remnants of my tears. I remember a
time when Ma would make us cookies, and Dad would take us to the park but that was 9 years
ago before Dad passed away. Jace never even had the chance to know him; he was barely 1 years
old when Dad died. Ma wasn’t able to handle Dad being gone so she turned to alcohol, and
stopped going to the very church they met at. Church, what does that word even mean to me
anymore? I’m not sure but I don’t think I could manage to step into one again. Then again today
has been a day I never thought I would see. No one should have to see their little brother dead in
their arms. No one should have to see their Ma lose themselves to alcohol. No one should have to
bury their father at such a young age. So who the hell knows anymore.
I was finally able to quell my thoughts and fall into a restless sleep, and woke up when
the bus came to a stop In Toledo Ohio. When the bus opened the door I was walking off of it as
heard someone say behind me
“ There’s a cheap hotel a mile up the road on Jefferson Ave”
     I turned to see it was the bus driver. I forced a slight smile and nodded at him, and he did
the same. I’m not sure why he gave me that advice. Perhaps it was out of pity, or maybe it was
just kindness I doubt I’ll ever find out. I followed the driver’s advice and made my way to the
hotel and paid for a room for the night. Thankfully they accepted cash at this one, and didn’t ask
for any I.D which is good because I didn’t have one.
That bus driver advice was helpful, I think more so then he knows” I thought to myself as I
made my way to the hotel
     As a few days passed I realized I couldn’t just keep staying at this hotel forever, as I
would run out of money.
Nowhere is gonna hire some 15 yr runaway” I thought to myself
     I didn’t want to do it, but I had to. I needed to survive in this harsh world. I walked over
to the bag that Juan had given me before I left, and pulled out a gun. It wasn’t a very impressive
one, quite the opposite in fact it was a glock-19 pistol that had seen much better days. I checked
the magazine the way Paulie taught me some years ago. The magazine was full. “Please don’t
make me have to use it
” I thought to myself
     I don’t want to cross that bridge, but the world isn’t kind. So I shouldn’t be either. I made
sure the gun was on safe and lifted my shirt and hid the gun in my waist. I left the hotel and
made my way into the city. The sun was setting so it would be dark soon I found an alley that
seemed to be long abandoned and waited for the sun to finish setting. It didn’t take long, maybe
30 minutes for the sun to finish setting. I made my way out of the alley and started walking along
the sidewalk until I found someone. It was a taller black guy wearing what looked like a long
black robe with a white color. I walked up behind him and said
“ don’t try anything and I won’t hurt you just go into the alley up there”
     He didn’t say anything except an audible “hmmm”. He complied and turned into the alley
then turned around to look me in the eye as I pulled out the gun. My hands started to shake.
Damn it I can’t be doing that” I thought to myself
“ You want my money son? I ain’t got much on me you can take it if that's what you want”
     I was confused, and paused for a moment to realize what he said.
“ Of course that's what I want, why else would I be doing this?”
“ I’ve seen bad people before, and I don’t see one in front of me right now” He said with pure
“ You... you’re trying to talk me out of this aren't you?” I said flicking the gun off of safety
“ I already said you can take my money if you want, but it won’t get you far”
“ What do you think the cops will catch me?”
“ No, I have no intention of going to them to report this.”
“ Ya, then what do you mean?”
“ You’re shaking holding the gun, do you really think you’ll be able to pull that trigger on
     His calmness was perplexing me, I didn’t know how to respond, I felt myself freeze up. I
seemed to lose the strength in my arm and pointed the gun down.
Why now am I hesitating I should just take his money and go” I thought to myself
     It felt like my head was gonna implode on itself. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“ Ty?” I said
     I’m not sure why I said that, or why I even thought of him right now. I knew he wasn’t
here, but it was like I was reliving the time in the alley that Ty reached out to me.
“ I’m not sure who Ty is, but you can call me Father Aaron”
     I felt the rest of my strength leave my body as I fell to my knees just like I did when I ran
into the hideout after losing everything.
“ I... I’m sorry Father Aaron.”
“ It’s all right son, I can see you're just lost. I won’t ask what's troubling you if you don’t want to
share, but I can offer you a hot meal, and a job if you want.”
     I nodded my head while looking at him. I noticed he was smiling, and unlike the other
ones I’ve seen recently this one wasn’t forced.
“When your ready for it come to the church with the tall white chapel, and I’ll give you a place
to belong”


Creative Non-Fiction

Stiff Support

Stiff Support


     Corsets are known throughout history for many different reasons, they look good, they
make people look skinnier, they in modern times are used as a fun fashion statement, and many
other reasons. But as with anything else, you must be careful with corsets; Don’t wear them too
long, don’t pull them too tight, etc. I personally love corsets, I only have 3 of my own but they
are beautiful and fun for me. But while those are physical corsets, I also have a metaphorical
corset. A corset I throw on when I need to be more appealing to family and those who would not
allow me to be me freely. Because corsets have been used all throughout history to hide what we
deem shameful. Though not always truly shameful I suppose, I am proud of what my family
would deem as flaws, my corset rather hides what I cannot be proud of around my family. I hide
under the guise of false shame. But in truth I love what’s under the corset.
     Around 20 years ago there was a bright pepto bismol pink room in a house in Raymore. It
belonged to a little girl who loved the color of this room, that little girl being me. A collection of
Barbie dolls contained in a big pink tub and a closet overflowing with dresses. I was always the
mom when playing house, had several princess dress up kits, and as an artist drew myself in
bright pink outfits. Always being drawn to the bright and bubbly color. My mother and
grandmother told me that this was how girls must be. It was a bad day for me when I couldn’t
wear a dress, because pants were for boys, obviously. All I wanted was connection with the
women in my family. They were true women, long hair, makeup, dresses, pink, flowers, never
daring to get dirty. This was reflected in the women I saw at church, also decorated in pink and
flowers, and most often dresses, as well as long hair. When I was 6, I decided long hair was a
hassle, so I had it cut to my shoulders. “Young girls shouldn’t have short hair!” My grandmother
tells me. I wanted her approval so until I was an adult my hair stayed at my shoulders, no shorter.
I often spent the night at my grandparents over weekends in my youth, and at 12 I hadn’t yet
understood the craze makeup had on my peers and family members. So as I got ready for the day
at my grandmother's place without makeup, “Put more makeup on to be more attractive! But
don’t attract anyone, you're too young!” Grandmother scolds me. At 13 I don’t really care if
anyone sees my bra straps, after all I’m a girl and girls wear bras, what’s the big deal? “Make
sure your bra straps are hidden! It's inappropriate and unladylike for people to see your bra
straps!” My grandmother seethes, aggressively pushing my bra strap higher on my shoulder. I
seem to have failed at girlhood, the aforementioned corset, restricting my breath. My
grandmother handed me the grade sheet for femininity with a big red F on the page and this time
not for Female but Failure. Maybe I should try another approach to girlhood?
     As I got older I grew out of the pink and girly phase or perhaps was pushed out, not liking
how my grandmother's words made me feel. No matter what I did, I wasn’t a good enough girl
for her, so I would no longer follow her standards. I had my dad, it was time to please him. I
painted my room blue, wore pants more often, wore dresses less and started expanding my
wardrobe colors, blue, yellow, green, red, etc. Now it was a bad day when I had to wear a dress. I
also started mixing hobbies and partaking in more masculine hobbies as well as my feminine
ones. I started hiking, fishing, collecting rocks, climbing trees, playing in dirt and sand. Some of
these activities I had already been doing, but had been scolded because they were not “girl”
activities. Since it was now time to seek approval from my father, if my dad went into the woods,
I would strap on my boots. If he went fishing I grabbed my pink Barbie fishing pole, which I
grumbled about having but it was the only fishing pole my parents would purchase for me. When
he made my brothers and I do athletic competitions, such as “Who can hold a push up position
the longest?” I was the winner. After all, to be my fathers favorite I had to reflect his interests.
And as he’s a drill sergeant you have to follow his orders. When my dad signed up for races, I
was in the children’s division at the same race. And I performed well in these races. I remember
very few now, but I know I got 3rd in a race when I was 10. I now had medals in my room that I
have since lost interest in. I was an athlete. No longer a pretty pink princess, but a jock, vying for
fathers attention and love. I also had to do more to gain his love and attention as opposed to my
mother and grandmother. My father left for army trips several times throughout my childhood.
So I always had to be on my game when he was home. But as I got older still, his attention was
less frequent. I guess he realized I wasn’t actually a boy like he wanted, and I had also begun to
question his conservative political views. Leaving me on my own, becoming a third parent for
my brothers and myself. Which led me to find friends at school that made me realize I didn’t
have to go by what my mother and father wanted. I was under the assumption I had to be their
perfect little girl. I was the only girl my parents had, I was the first niece, and grandchild on my
dads side. So I had to be the example for the younger ones. My cousin and I were the perfect set
of pink and purple little girls. Whatever I had in pink, she had in purple. These were our
assignments, and we could never stray, lest we anger those who gave us these roles. The boys of
the family got blue, green, and yellow. And whenever we asked for a “boy” item it was of course
slapped in a “girl” friendly color. Again the corset tightens, painfully.
     Neither the girly pink phase nor the blue jock phase stuck fully, but to this day I still have
bits and pieces from these different eras. My favorite color is still blue but I also love to wear
dresses every now and then. I enjoy a good hike in the woods, and “playing” dress up as well.
Which is beautifully how I came into my non-binary identity. Not wholly feminine, not wholly
masculine but a middle ground all my own. I have masc days and fem days, but I also have
androgynous days. A moment where I realized I had discovered the right labels was a few years
ago at work. A young child did not know whether to call me Sir or Ma’am, this child’s confusion
gave me such a strange and new sense of euphoria. I like when people are not sure. This
discovery of middle ground is also how I came to realize my bisexuality. I remember having
crushes on boys and only boys for the longest time, my first crush was in Kindergarten. My
family all knew of this crush of course, because even as a small child I was a hopeless romantic,
that was sure I would be his wife one day. My family members would often ask me about my
“little boyfriend” but remind me that I wasn’t allowed to date for real yet, a confusing situation
for me at 5 years old. Then when I was 12 I met new friends who told me about new words to
describe people: Gay, Trans, Lesbian, etc. These were all foreign to me, but it sparked in me a
new drive to research for myself these terms. At this point I considered myself a queer ally. And
for roughly 2 to 3 years this was a good label for me. After all, I was still a girl who liked boys.
Then after becoming more and more familiar with these terms, and my friends experimenting
with titles I remember in my sophomore year of high school, there was a girl in the theater
program at school, she was nice, and made me laugh and that’s when I realized she gave me the
exact same butterflies in my stomach as every boy I had had a crush on before. But of course this
had to be a fluke because she wasn’t masculine, she wore dresses and pink, and makeup. She was
one hundred percent girl, and so was I at that point. Surely I just thought she was pretty, in a
platonic way. It took a while for me to come to accept my feelings, but I realized that no, this
wasn’t friendship I felt, I wanted to be her girlfriend. I wanted to hold her hand, kiss her cheek,
play with her hair, etc. I felt the corset loosening. I talked to my queer friends about these
feelings and they told me that I was allowed to experiment with labels myself, just like they had.
I had not accepted that this was who I am yet. Because both my father and mother had made it
abundantly clear that girls couldn’t like girls the same as boys. I was going to marry a boy, I had
to marry a boy, that was what they expected, that was what they accepted. And I had not yet
registered that I could live in that in-between yet so for me I had to make a choice, and for a
while I chose to hide that that girl gave me more butterflies than any other boy had. She made me
feel more myself than I ever had. But when others don’t accept you it's hard to accept yourself.
And I couldn’t let my family down, I was the example for my brothers, so decked in rainbows, I
closed the closet door again, smothering the rainbows in more acceptable disguises, donning that
corset once again, and pulling as tightly as I could.
     In 2019 when I was 17, I had grown to accept who I was but also knew my family, liked
the disguise I held in the closet. So I continued playing dress up, the corset stayed on, as strained
as it looked to myself and my friends, to my family, it was in perfect shape, how I had always
looked. Also in 2019, USA Today released an article stating that in Americans aged 18 to 34 the
acceptance rate of LGBTQ+ individuals had slipped from 53% in 2017 to 45% in 2018. People
in this age group felt less comfortable interacting with queer individuals throughout the year. As
well as that age group, women’s overall acceptance of queer identities plummeted from 64% to
52%. 36% of all people said they would be uncomfortable if they learned a family member was
queer. Why is that? Why is who people love or who people are what divides us? Was 2 years the
most support we would get? After gay marriage was leagalized in 2015, I guess our support lease
had ended. People do not feel uncomfortable most of the time if they find out someone is a part
of a minority group unless they are queer, there are of course exceptions. But this is one of the
biggest instances where others cannot accept a person's identity. Of course who was I, or in fact
who am I, to judge? After all, the game of dress up is still going on. So aren't I inadvertently
being unsupportive of myself? Who I am is either a truth or a lie. To those I trust the disguise
comes off, I get to breathe. To my family, there is a weight of expectations. Inside my
metaphorical closet the pride flags are covered by bibles, and dresses, and the term “ally”. My
closet disguised to be more acceptable, myself wearing a corset that has restricted my breathing
for years.
     Queer people have been around since ancient times, though some would disagree and argue
queerness is a new thing. Queerness is only a new thing for those who have suppressed it. Those
who threw the Bible’s and dresses into the closet for me to cover myself with. For presumably as
long as there have been people there have been queer identities, the only difference is that now
we have terms, and some of us have more safety to admit who we are. I only gained this safety
when I met other queer people. People so sure in their identities and who they were that they
were able to help me find the terms, they helped me find the in between, first in bisexuality and
later in my non-binary identity. I have been living as myself, out to friends for around 6 years as
a bisexual and 2 as a non-binary individual. But when I am around my family, I have to leave my
cozy space in between and squeeze back into the cramped box of “woman” and “straight” and
after 21 years of hiding in that box , it’s gotten easier but it also hurts more every time. Knowing
I can never let my family know the true me because they don’t want to know the true me.
Wearing that corset, sure people tell me I look good and, due to that acceptance I feel good, but
after a while, my ribs get crushed, it’s harder to breathe, and I feel faint. So when I get to take the
corset off, that air feels great. I then get used to the freedom of breathing, not worrying about
busting my corset open and revealing the insecurities my family would rather not see, until I
realize it’s time to lace it up again, and get used to less air. I look good in the corset, after all, or
so I’ve been told, even though it hurts, beauty is pain.
     According to the Trevor Project, trans and Non-binary youth have a higher risk of
homelessness and housing instability than cisgendered LGBT+ youth. Trans women’s rate is
38%, Trans men’s rate is 39%, Non-binary rate is 35%, whereas cisgender queer youth’s rate is
23%. I have been fortunate enough to stay in my home but of course that’s because I am not out
to my family. If I was out to them I don’t know if they would cast me out but it’s because of that
fear that I have not told them. I have people who would take me in of course but it is something I
would prefer to wholly avoid. But I’m still not as afraid of this possibility as I used to be. My
boyfriend loves me for who I am, my friends accept me, and even if my family is not supportive,
I have people to fall back on. My boyfriend calls me his partner and I gleam with happiness. He
also calls me his girlfriend and still I beam. While I am androgynous most of the time, I still
enjoy femininity. Not a woman but a feminine person. I may have to hide from my parents but I
don’t let them push me around anymore. I am who I am.
     Once I discovered that a middle ground existed and surrounded myself around those who
were like me, and those who were different but accepted me for who I am, I was also able to
accept myself. Because at least for me I have to be told things are okay, I have been an outcast
for most of my life. I hate having to lace up my corset and get back in the dark closet, but it
makes that freedom of no corset and free reign outside of the closet all the more freeing. I of
course hope to one day leave that corset and closet behind, but until then, I’ve found ways to live
with them. I guess inadvertently, here is yet another in between that I live in. I am out to my
boyfriend, friends, and a few select cousins, but to most everyone else I retreat into the closet,
not out of shame, but self preservation. My family thinks I am weird, I was bullied in youth, and
I have never been one of the “cool” kids, but once I found those who love me unconditionally it
was a lot easier for me to love me and accept myself. Most people have never really understood
me for who I am but honestly, the only person who needs to fully understand is myself. And I
know and accept exactly who I am. I am that beautiful in between. I live where I am most
comfortable, not bending to what others want me to be anymore. I get to make the rules, I can
take masculine and feminine aspects and mix and match as I please. I was that little girl who
loved pink and dresses, I was that jock girl, who ran and wore pants everyday. And I am now the
androgynous person who loves blue and dresses. I thank those girls from the past, though they
were the wrong labels, they handed me the right one eventually, after all my journey was theirs
as well. And what a beautiful one it’s been. Every journey has its ups and downs. I know a lot of
people regret the downs but for me they are just as good as the ups. I would be a completely
different person if I hadn’t been bullied, or moved away from all my friends, or had my great
grandparents die when I needed them most. And yes those memories make me sad, but it’s still
bittersweet. Because I still had the memories from before those hardships. And even with the
downs, I know that I have a bright and beautiful future ahead of me. I have wonderful friends, a
found family that I cultivated and who loves me like family should, and most of all I have the
most amazing boyfriend who I plan to have in the rest of my life; I can’t really ask much more
than that. We all like to believe that we know who we are but some of us have to go on a longer
journey to figure it out. And for others sometimes we discover ourselves multiple times. As for
our corsets? Know that it is okay to put that corset on, rather than have it forced upon you.
Someday you and I will be able to leave those corsets behind, living freely, taking in all the air
we desperately desire, but until then, don’t fear the corset, it can after all be an ally, even with
stiff support.


Let's Go Crazy

Let's Go Crazy

Emma Kelly

     I will never be able to forget the sound of drums filling my ears like water after jumping
into a pool. I was submerged in synth beats and a simple melody, but it wasn’t until I heard
Prince’s voice sing the opening lyrics of “When Doves Cry” that I knew I was completely
underwater. There was something about his expansive register that allowed him to sing whatever
notes at whatever pitch that drew me in like a swimmer caught in a riptide, waves and shades of
blue entrapping me on all sides. I was spinning in the whirlpool that was Prince. I didn’t know
which way was up or down, but I knew that I was ready to drown.
     I was around nine years old when I first heard the melodic voice of Prince. I had taken
my mom’s phone to listen to music while she was working on dinner, and I happened upon an
app generated playlist that was most likely titled “ All Out 80’s” or “Best of the 80’s Hits”. The
normal one hit wonders played on, but then I heard Prince. The song that played was “When
Doves Cry”, one of the more popular tracks from Prince’s album Purple Rain, which he released
five weeks prior to the debut of his movie, subsequently titled Purple Rain as well. I remember
hearing the song for the first time, and I could not stop listening to it. As I sat eagerly at the table,
I naively asked my mother if she had ever listened to Prince when she was growing up. To my
luck, I found out that my mother was a devoted Prince fan and she was able to introduce me to
many more of his songs (the songs of his that she deemed appropriate for a nine year old, that is).
This newfound love of Prince created an airtight bond with my mother, and it flourished our
relationship knowing that we both were enamored by the enigma that Prince was.
     In the following years to come, I grew up and so did my music taste. I moved on from
Purple Rain and started to dive into his more risqué works such as Dirty Mind, Controversy, and
the album that contained three discs with twelve songs each that all equally had a running time of
2 sixty minutes, Emancipation. Starting from that moment on, every other sentence I said was a
Prince lyric. I would be wearing purple as often as I could, and trying new things like lipstick
and eyeshadow to resemble some essence of the man I adored. I once watched Prince in an
interview, and it was as if there was a huge sign in neon lights above his head that read “ Look at
Me!” . In this interview with Mel B in 1998, Mel B begins the interview with asking what Prince
would like to be called. At this time, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince was going by a
symbol. She asks the question to which he responds “Well I go by an unpronounceable symbol,
but you can call me Spud”. He says this while twirling a bangle bracelet in his hand, which he
then bites while staring into the soul of Mel B. The awe that I was left with after viewing Prince
would never leave.
     The charisma that Prince has is an undeniable one. His words are accompanied by a soft
tone that makes a person have to lean in to listen to him, and his phrases just glide. For me, there
was no way to escape the interview answers Prince had given. I envied the power he had to make
people listen to him. Growing up, I was constantly bullied for my size. I was a bit bigger than the
majority of the girls that I went to school with. Most of them were about the size of a branch and
in comparison, I looked like an ever growing stump. While my chubby cheeks and cute tummy
never bothered me, it bothered everyone else around me. I was ridiculed. I was called any animal
that was remotely big or fat, and I was even oinked at for a period of time. These kids had shot
down any confidence that I had. As a young girl who was getting bullied every single day she
walked into school, I had to figure out a way to emulate the myth of a man that I loved with
every part of my being. I began to try to talk in a commanding but assertive tone, yet my phrases
and speeches never flowed as smoothly as he did. I began putting on glitter nail polish and
wearing way too much eyeliner for a preteen. I wore purple and platform boots which shockingly
enough, only added to the people who tormented me. I had once again created another thing for
them to make fun of me for, and I came home in tears after being mocked for my flamboyant
costuming. With tears falling onto my white pirate shirt, my mother scooped me into her
nurturing arms. As she held me, she began to play the only music that she knew would cheer me
up. So together, we sang the words of Prince. His encouragement of going crazy and the world
being full of controversy seemed to always be something that brought me joy . As sad as I was, I
could feel that my purple coat was turning into a cloak and that my overpowering eyeliner was to
become a shield that deflected the words of those that taunted me.
     On Halloween day of 2014, I rode to school in the car with my mom listening to my hero
in crushed velvet. I woke up extra early that day to put on a wig that resembled a Jheri curl and
slapped on as much eyeliner as I could . I zipped up my gold boots and threw on my velvet
purple jacket. I walked into school that day surrounded by my classmates in princess dresses and
Star Wars costumes, but nobody else was dressed as Prince. From the moment I walked into my
first class, I was the most popular kid in the home room. My teachers were amused at the fact
that I even knew who Prince was, but to see a ten year old girl dressed up in his likeness was
highly unexpected. Several pictures were taken and I received so much extra candy. I must have
embodied the smoothness of Prince’s voice and the charisma of his presence. Even my
classmates thought I was cool. I had finally managed to do what Prince had done so easily in that
interview with Mel B, people were listening to me because of the sheer force of my energy in the
room. I remember running out to the car after school and hugging my mother, who had spent the
entire night prior styling a cheap wig so that it would look exactly like Prince’s hair from Purple
Rain . My mother and Prince came together, and fused to make the spunkiest ten year old to ever
do Halloween.
     I’ve never been a person to cry at many things, especially not at celebrity deaths. The day
came where the sky turned purple and Prince had left the Earth. A memory I cannot erase is
crying in the car with my mom after hearing the announcement of Prince’s passing over the radio
which was followed by “Purple Rain” . I sang every word to that song with tears and snot falling
from my face, finally knowing what it sounded like when doves cried and how the purple rain
felt. How could someone so immortal be struck down by the stupid rules of the mortal? How
could someone as interstellar as Prince ever pass on? For a man so beyond this Universe, his
passing felt like a brick to the chest. There was something so unfathomable about my hero
leaving me here alone on this planet to deal with life.
     As the beginning of his first song off of the influential Purple Rain album states, “Dearly
beloved/We are gathered here today/To get through this thing called "life"/Electric word, life/It
means forever and that's a mighty long time/ But I'm here to tell you there's something else”.
While these lyrics gave me comfort with his passing, they also awoke a realization within me.
Yes, life can be rough especially when you are being consistently bullied every day. However, it
is the way in which you live life that determines how you get through it. Do you cower in fear
when people say hurtful things? Or do you choose to put on the persona of someone so
unbothered by other’s opinions of them. I used the enigma of Prince so frequently that it wasn’t
just a persona, the persona became who I truly was.
     I have kept his charisma in the back of my pocket for every conversation I have
entertained, and I have borrowed his searing eyes for all of my more intimate moments in life. I
wear his swagger no different from the immortal purple coat that I clung to in my adolescence.
When asked questions, I respond with a question as he once did in that 1998 interview with Mel
B. I am a mosaic of a man that I have never met intertwined with my own Emma values. As a 5
child, I was soothed by the simple melodies of Prince. Now, as a nineteen year old, I can see that
his music acted as a conduit for what was later to become how I present myself as a person. Our
love for music can transcend the basis of just fandom. It has the ability to grow into a deeper
appreciation that affects how we carry ourselves as individuals. We can find more depth in the
music we listen to when we reach further and further than melodies looped on top of synth
harmonies. I will forever continue to dance in purple rain and listen to the doves. Their crying
means something far more different to me than it did ten years ago.



Baigali Nyamdulam

     At 5 am sharp, the blaring sound of an alarm goes off, and I drowsily open my eyes. In an
attempt to wake myself up, I look around my room and instantly spot two navy suitcases that
seem to be ready to burst open any minute. Right away, I’m wide awake, and my gut is filled
with excitement, anxiety, and fear. A million different thoughts occupy my mind but are
temporarily halted from the savory smell from the kitchen. The scent of freshly steamed
dumplings permeates not only my room but also my mind. Unfortunately, my stomach is not
strong enough to digest both the heavy breakfast that my mom has prepared and the uneasiness
that sits heavily in my gut. I only manage to eat 3 pieces and agree to take the rest of them in a
     In 7th grade, our family had to go on budget. Though my mom could still afford an
expensive private school, the situation wasn’t as good as it used to be. Perhaps by instinct, I
never really thought of asking for pocket money. After classes, I usually stayed behind to solve
extra math problems. Many days, I wished I had money to buy myself some snacks to relieve the
monster that was in my stomach. Whenever my friends came back from the nearby cafe with
warm sausage rolls and fizzy soda, the growl in my stomach only worsened. Perhaps, I should’ve
just asked for some pocket money.
     My survival instinct definitely kicked in around that time because before I knew it, I was
in the kitchen looking for recipes online and watching the Food Network religiously. Despite the
most dreadful part of cooking -washing the dishes- I actually enjoyed the process. One time, my
1 11-year-old self was itching to add lemon juice in one of my dishes because Giada, Bobby Flay
and Barefoot Contessa used it like holy water in horror movies. Armed with my newfound
“knowledge”, I added it to a perfectly fine fried rice in an attempt to make my plain dish slightly
more exquisite. The result, however, deserves its own horror story. From the first bite, I ran to the
trash can and gasped for air from the weird mix between sour and savory, and I understood that
lemon juice is a double edged sword that will either lead me to heaven or hell’s gate. Since then,
my knowledge in “fine-dining” has improved and I have become the head chef of my family.
Over the years, my cooking skills have improved so much that my mom occasionally jokes that I
should become a baker or cook. And, each time, I respectfully decline it.
     Throughout my elementary, middle, and some parts of high school, my mom and I rarely
saw each other during the day. Before she could wake up, I’d dress myself up and go catch the
school bus. And before she could get back home, I’d already be asleep. In middle school, my one
wish was to be picked up by my mom and go home together, and I’m afraid that the only
consistent thing that brought my mom and I together at that time was rice with canned herring.
Usually on Saturday morning before math competitions or any other extra tutoring that I had for
the day, my mom, who refuses to set a foot in the kitchen, would somehow wake up earlier than
me and combine the cooked rice with the fish. Appearance wise, some parts of the rice were
stuck together, and some parts would have too much fish. Taste wise, nothing to complain about
except for the bland parts.
     I may tolerate basic dishes for lunch and dinner, but I can not under any circumstance
tolerate basic desserts, specifically fruit cakes. Fruits, in my opinion, are supposed to be 2
refreshing, tangy, juicy, and cooling; cakes, on the other hand, are warm, dense, dry, and the
exact opposite of fruits. Therefore, cakes that make fruits their entire personality are mediocre at
best and overrated most of the time. Without fruits to make them seem more special than they
actually are, those are one of the most boring things you can ever feed yourself with. Now, please
understand that we’re not talking about Black Forest or layered cakes that have frosting and fresh
fruit slices in between. This is exclusively about a kind of fruit cake where the fruit is cooked
alongside the cake.
     My standard for desserts is quite high. However, one of the best things that I’ve ever
tasted was a cheesecake made by myself. To me, the smooth fluffy texture, slight sweetness, pale
top, buttery crumbly crust, and richness from the dairy make cheesecake one of the most beloved
desserts in the world. It all starts from room temperature cream cheese, as cold ones will result in
rough batter where the cream cheese is not incorporated well with the rest of the ingredients. To
ensure a crack free cheesecake, it needs to be baked in a waterbath where the actual pan with the
batter sits inside another pan with hot water. That way, when the oven gets too hot, the top of the
cheesecake has enough moisture from the hot water to not create cracks in the middle. It looks
quite easy from 1 minute videos where everything is just dumped together, but, trust me, it’s not.
After hours of work here and there, it’s finally pulled out of the oven, and we’re only halfway
there. From my numerous failed attempts before, I tasted “freshly baked” cheesecake quite a few
times, and without proper cooling, it literally tastes like sweet warm yogurt mixed with sour
cream. The next day, it was ready to be served as it had spent the night in the fridge. I took out
the largest plate we owned and pretended I was overseas in a chic little cafe that had an
aesthetically pleasing interior. Had I been slightly more patient, I probably would’ve played jazz
3 music in the background to set the mood and add on the aesthetics but I couldn’t care less.
Upon slicing, I realized that the top of the cake was slightly more golden brown than I would
have preferred but pale enough to pass the appearance test. Unlike some desserts that taste like
tooth decay, the sweetness was well balanced and complemented the richness from the dairy.
Overall, it was one of the most decadent cheesecakes I’ve ever tasted in my life. Though my
judgments may be biased as I was the creator, I feel like Gordon Ramsey would have approved
of it.
     My mom, on the other hand, can bake only one cake, and it all started in 8th grade when
my mom’s friend visited us with a huge tray of cake with apple slices in it. The dessert itself isn’t
complicated compared to macaron or pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) that require patience
and expertise. Since I didn’t like fruit in cakes, I refused to finish the small piece that I was
offered. However, a witty part of me saw this as a perfect opportunity to ask my mom to recreate
it because I “liked it” and “didn’t know the recipe”. Asking my mom who probably hadn’t even
opened our oven before to make an apple cake was a leap of faith. A part of me was scared of her
burning the kitchen down but another part of me wasn’t concerned with the burning kitching nor
the apple slices in the cake as I was confident she wouldn’t dare waste her time making such
things. Surprisingly, she made it work with my occasional help here and there, and I didn’t have
the heart to tell her how much I despised fruits in cakes.
     The next year, I transferred to a boarding school. 3 months into the new school year, my
mom wanted to visit me to see how I was living. Had she asked what I wanted from a bakery
before coming, I probably would’ve chosen baked alaska, eclair, or choux pastry but she brought
an apple cake. An apple cake that she baked the morning of. An apple cake that she made by 4
herself without any help. To my surprise, the sugar on the top layer was caramelized perfectly to
create a crunchy golden brown edge while the thin slices of apple between the mildly sweet
pillowy cake balanced everything to create perfect harmony. It’s definitely not on par with
cheesecake or other desserts without fruits that I would have preferred but for some reason, it
made me just as happy as any other fancy desserts would have.
     In my sophomore year of high school, my mom took a temporary break from work, and I
really lived my middle school dream during that short period. My mom drove me to school,
picked me up, and brought me dinner in rare cases where I had to spend the night at school. After
school, she would be waiting for me with chicken breast cooked in avocado oil and steamed
brown rice. Compared to canned fish and rice from a couple of years ago, it’s an improvement
that deserves a round of applause. Also, my middle school self wouldn’t have believed had she
been told about the meals our mom has learned to make over the years.
     For some, homemade meals and everyday life might not be exciting, but those days are
full of subtle yet peaceful and warm moments that just can’t be described in words. There is
nothing remarkable in any of the dishes my mom cooks but it still tastes and feels better than any
of the fancy things that I make. After all, it is the love and warmth that are hidden behind my
mom’s not-so-special dishes and cakes that make them special. My mom still doesn’t know that I
don’t like fruit cakes because I’ve started to love them the way they are solely because they are
made by my mom.
     It’s been more than a year since I left my home to go to a college 6,500 miles away.
Despite the amount of time that has passed, I still have regrets about the dumplings I left uneaten
that morning. The dumplings were stuffed to the brim with fillings, and the outside wrappers
were as thin as a sheet of paper. The moment I took a bite, the savory soup from the fillings hit
my palate, and my soul was warmed and filled with comfort. I regret not eating the rest of the
dumplings because those were special dumplings made by my mom with love and care.

The Sound of Bluejays

The Sound of Bluejays

Casi Waterhouse

     When I was 10, I went to my first high school basketball game. At halftime, the cheer
squad came out to perform accompanied by our mascot, a bluejay. I sat wide-eyed, squeezed in
between my parents on the packed wooden bleachers. I clutched my popcorn to my chest as I
watched the Bluejay move. He walked across the court stopping periodically for the occasional
wave to the crowd or fist pump into the air; my eyes followed and I was afraid to blink as if I
might miss part of his routine. A balding man named Mr. Miller led a chant following the
cheerleader’s acrobatic moves. The crowd began to roar as Mr. Miller took his place at center
court. He stood in a wide stance; while he was a shorter gentleman by nature, his voice carried to
each corner of the gymnasium. A high school history teacher, he was a master at gaining one’s
attention. He cupped his hands around the opening of his mouth;
     Who are we?
     JAYS! J-A-Y-S!
     What does that spell?
     JAYS! J-A-Y-S!
     Who’s gonna win?
     JAYS! J-A-Y-S!
     The crowd went nuts and so did my 10-year-old self. I was on my feet, hooting and
hollering for a big furry Bluejay. Cheering; not for the basketball team that soon took the court,
but for whatever poor kid was stuck inside that sauna, one shaped like an oversized puppet. Of
course, at this age, I didn’t know there was a person inside, but I felt his energy feed the hunger
of mine nonetheless. The words of the chant spilled into my mouth, a baby bird, just skin and
bone, awaiting dinner from its’ mother.
     The sounds of bluejays are a gift of mimicry, put to good use to expose the proximity of
predators. The chirps let other species know to flee for their lives before something 2 dangerous
happens to them. In our home gym, we were the predators. Here, the sounds of bluejays warned
our opponent that we were coming, that we were the danger. Years later, I was a scrawny
freshman playing point guard for our Bondurant Bluejays. By this time, the chant had evolved to
include some hand gestures that formed the shape of each letter as the crowd spelled it out loud.
Mr. Miller, still leading with an abundance of energy, started from the top; Who are we?- I
listened from the hallway, juggling a basketball at my fingertips. As we took the court, my fellow
bluejays cried out. I was one of them now. Finally, I had feathers and I was part of the flock. This
cheer was for us. A sharp alert to our opponents, a victory cry to show they would soon face

     An hour northwest of my hometown was a town called Perry. Their mascot, also a
bluejay. I remember the drive and how boring it was. It started by leaving the comfort of our own
nest; our schools all along one smooth road, our freshly constructed football stadium, houses
with continuous upkeep, and a new-ish gas station on the edge of town led into a long journey on
the highway. Miles of road just to end up in their nest; concrete filled with potholes, a busted-up
track and field encircling an overgrown football field. To the left of that, their high school.
Traveling to Perry for a game was nothing more than a joke. Perry was horrible at athletics in
general, hence the worn-down facilities, but their basketball teams were exceptionally bad. We
won each game with at least a 20-point deficit; essentially it was an opportunity for the bench
players to add to their otherwise limited highlight films.
     The other defining characteristic of Perry High School was that it smelled. My parents
always said of skunk, but deep down they knew the real culprit: marijuana. The hallways reeked

of the substance, something that was rare back home. And it was funny too because Perry’s
administrators only ever put up signs that said “Don’t Do Drugs” to combat the problem. The
irony killed us. The Bondurant Bluejays spent the bus ride home poking fun at 3 the posters.
How funny that a school would slap slogans on hallway walls to fix the drug issue. It was like
slapping a bandaid on a massive trauma wound; a pathetic attempt at a solution. For four years
we blew the Perry Bluejays out of the water on their home court and for four years I spent the
bus ride home making fun of them. We were the better Bluejays, that was that.
     A month and a half ago, the Perry Bluejays ducked for cover as a classmate of theirs shot
up the school with a stolen gun. A 17-year-old boy hid in the bathroom and posted a photo on
social media. The picture: a selfie of him with a blue duffle bag which concealed his loaded
weapon. He captioned the photo “Now we wait.” A chilling message from a predator with no
time for a songbird warning.
     I can only imagine the sound of bluejays as students feared for their lives. As bullets
made way through flesh. As bodies hit the ground. As friends bled beside friends. As royal blue
lockers were splattered with blood. As sneakers pounded gymnasium floors. As gunshots echoed
in bathrooms of children praying, children sending potentially their last message to a loved one.
     A month and a half ago, I stopped dead in my tracks on the way to class, somewhere on a
college campus far from home. An adult bluejay that left the nest a few years back, that fled that
small town. Word of the shooting had reached me in what felt like a uppercut. Bluejays are
among the longest-living songbirds in the wild and yet this young and promising bluejay from
Perry had just been reported dead. In the wild, the oldest bluejay to live was 17 years old, the
same as the shooter. His victim, an 11-year-old boy, nick-named “Smiley” for his joyful and kind
smile. A life cut short. A boy too familiar. A school not so far. A story in the media becomes
reality for the Perry Bluejays. 

     In turn, Perry’s story becomes a harsh reality for me too. How can I be okay with a sixth
grader living fewer years than that of a bird in the wild? Why did I ever use them as my comedic
relief? Afterall, we’re all of the same species. One of my own is gone. Suddenly, the differences
in our nests don’t matter. Their lack or resources, the run down gym, the substance abuse, the
posters. None of it should have ever mattered to me. My nest wasn’t better, no, not at all. My
nest was just more privileged.
     I go back to Mr. Miller standing at all of five foot seven inches. He’s screaming until his
lungs give out, a heart for this school, a man of great pride. The Bluejay paces the court waving
to children who eagerly await t-shirts being thrown out by cheerleaders. The crowd responds
with the chant and corresponding limbs that form into the letters; J-A-Y-S. I watch critically from
the hallway, ball dancing from hand to hand.
     Who are we?
     Bullies. Hypocrites. Mean girls with advantaged backgrounds. No hardships. No reason
to smoke pot or sell it. We sit on a school bus for an hour and recap the score of our game. We
talk about the smell of the locker room. We discuss what new signs have been added to the
hallway walls. We speak highly of ourselves and claim to be perfect. We claim to be “better”. We
only care about ourselves, but doesn’t everyone?
     What does that spell?

     Ignorance. Inexperience. Foolishness. The inability as a high schooler, one that feels on
top of the world, to have empathy for others. Or at least not until those people face a great and
terrible danger. That’s how this world works, concerns are only raised when something hits a
little too close to home. When something affects you directly. You don’t have to be kind in the
dark, sitting in the back seats of a traveling school bus, but you do when an 11-year-old has
multiple bullet hole wounds. 5
     Who’s gonna win?
     A trick question. One that can’t be answered in this essay. Or ever. I may have won every
game against the Perry Bluejays but no one wins here. Surely “Smiley” doesn’t win. And
definitely the shooter doesn’t win. But neither do the Bondurant Bluejays. We don’t win either
despite what the scoreboard continues to say year after year. Nobody cries out in victory here.
There is only defeat in the way the world behaves. The way we lack sympathy, integretity,
emotion. But yet suddenly the ability to reconize we’re all just birds comes to us when were
supposed to care, when it looks bad if we don’t.
     As a bluejay, I wish deeply that I could have given “Smiley” a warning cry. I wish I could
have squawked and chirped to beg him to flee from the predator that approached. I wish that this
didn’t happen to him. I wish he outlived birds by decades. I wish too that I could go back to a
time before “Smiley’s” death. I wish I could slap the younger me upside the head. Knock some
sense into her. I wish I cared more than, the same as I do now. I wish I didn’t poke fun or joke. I
wish I didn’t focus so much on the things that made Perry different but rather the aspects that
made them just the same as everywhere else. A community that hurts. A high school with
imperfections. A 17-year-old struggling with a mental health crisis. A sixth grader filled with joy.
We fail to recognize that we’re all the same and one, before and now more than ever.

Chasms of Belonging

Chasms of Belonging

Simone Collins

I inch further away. Like the ocean pulling you away from shore, if I’m caught in the tide, I may
be shoved, groped, tripped, and stepped on. I feel anxiety creep up from behind and lock its
cynical arms around my midriff, suffocating me. I have to swap places with my father or else I
will be sacrificed to a group that can’t see past the bloodlust in their eyes. I need a way out, a
tunnel of savior. I don’t mix well with mosh pits. I don’t mosh, period. A guy shoves his way in
front of me, eyeing me to let him pass. I move without hesitation; he can go in there all he likes. I
want calm, steady, relaxed. Standing here is easy. Standing here is all I’ve ever known; I prefer it
this way.

Think of yourself trapped inside a large pinball machine. You glide towards the middle, bumping
into those beside you, a face slam from the bottom flippers, whipping you out so you tumble
upward, zigzagging off bodies, crushing your brain into mush until finally, you fall, planting
towards the bottom again to repeat the cycle. This, this flow of collusion, is what a mosh pit is.

Mosh pits are made for metal. Sure, you can mosh at rap concerts, ring-around-the-rosy to Kenny Chesney, jump and hold hands while listening to pop, but no one does it like the hazard-crazed fanatics who want to see you bleed. While it started in the late 70s, what was once California’s claim to fame power dance, is now a right of passage, a Viagra pill for a bored crowd. Bands adopted the infestive adrenaline rush and now they encourage “Walls of death” between
thousands of people.

I tend to keep a nice, stretched distance between it and me. In it, it dehumanizes you, shrinks you
down until you’re nothing but throngs of bodies and loose flesh. You are simple, unoriginal,
debased, like curly head sheep being rustled into compliance. Mosh pits are where you go to be
forgotten, where you go to be swallowed. It is a place for people to minimize you into one thing:

There are no mosh pits at country concerts and for all things holy, it was a country concert. The
crowd was tame and there was a different smell to the air, one that was lighter. More Bud Light
than Coors, flowery or sweet instead of liquid death. The lights were brighter, and you could see
the floor and empty beer cans beneath you. When someone moved, you could hear the
click-clack of their heels; this crowd was quieter.

This time, it was a group of girls. They were younger. They told me they attended Blue Valley.
Ah shit, I thought. They all had various designs of white summer dresses and brown sandals. All
were beach blonde with highlights. They had giggly laughs and high-pitched screeches- they
were tipsy. They pushed their way to the front, bumping into each other and swaying dazedly.
They looked like their middle names could be Ashley, or Hannah, or Rachel. They talked so loud
that it was hard not to eavesdrop on their conversation. The current one was deciding if one of
the girls should Snapchat her ex after finding out he was talking to another girl. I rolled my eyes.
Oh, to have a life so contented. I stared forward or glued my attention to my phone. I was alone,
thanks to my parents who decided sitting towards the back was much more pleasurable than
standing for two hours. I felt alone.

The girl closest to me could smell this loneliness. After her friend went to go buy more Vodka
and Redbulls for them to chug further past their limits, she turned to me and smiled fondly. I
smiled back. We made small talk and she asked me more questions than I did her. She tells me I
don’t look like I would be at a country concert, like it wasn’t “my scene.” She completely
ignores the Garth Brooks concert shirt I had gotten a year prior, and I cocked my head, asking
her why? Because I look like I listen to rap music or hip-hop. Looking back, she was too
straightforward in this ideology, and I think that’s where it pissed me off. She was smooth in her
judgment, as if it was sensible. She made it sound as though I was the absurd one, having
“duhhhh” itched into her face.

Oh, how I screamed and hollered inside my head. Could I be mad? She was drunk for crying out
loud. I laugh it off and tell her I listen to everything, my boundaries far and wide. Her eyes
dazzle, leaning in closer, close enough I can smell the strict spice of Vodka and something peach,
and tells me she listens to everything, too! She was so ecstatic, flabbergasted that we had
something in common. To her, I was an anomaly, a scarce jewel. Someone who had a one track
playlist. Or at least, her vision of me did. Yet, my version of her, comprehended that she couldn't
scratch two rocks together. I guess it was only fair for her judgment to turns its eyes to me.


Had there been a mosh pit formed, she wouldn’t have made it out alive. I like to think I
would’ve. But honesty is cruel and I
know, had there been a gaping circle in the middle, we both would have been nervous, scared of
being scratched. We would have fallen into the same category. This thought irked me more than
her perception of me.

As always, my dad stood beside me, a sidekick of sorts, and we stood waiting for the music to
start. Legs cramping, lower back aching, head sweating. The air was stuffy, claustrophobic, and
body odor lingered like cologne sprayed in the air. Can you believe euphoria thrives in a place
like this? This crowd was younger but it was a younger band. That doesn’t mean the violence
ceases, oh no, but they sure do love to talk. Teens. If I had to guess, my age or a few years
younger. There were five of them. Girls and boys. Their look was all the same: face piercings,
shirts from previous concerts, the ones who dared had a tattoo or two, some color in the hair, and
wore some type of chain, either on the neck, wrist, or belt. They wanted to make a scene, to
belong. They were eager to converse, like the lonesome kiosks at the mall, stationed in the back
corner. They found my father and I, restlessly waiting. The girl closest to me, the one with neon
green streaks in her hair, asked if this was my first concert. I grinned, seeing my opportunity to
brag- the sleazy Wall Street businessman I am.

I tell her it’s my ninth heavy metal concert and the group of them are taken aback, mind blown
that at such an age, the capability is possible. This catches all their attention and the boy who
seemed like the ringleader, the one who does show tricks for approval, pans over to my father,
who up until that point, had been relaxed and skillfully watching with his hands buried in his
front pockets. The boy asked my father if my father was there for me. As if he was a bodyguard,
sworn to duty and his presence, in a mob of this kind, was purely objective.Where everyone else
had sleeveless shirts, tattered jeans, cranky hair, or patched-up vests, he wore his nice Levies,
because he hates ripped jeans. He had on a Chiefs quarter zip he bought at Rally House, with his
nice sneakers. He’s void of tattoos, or rings, or piercings. He’s bald with no cap on, clean-shaven
and willfully chill. He is the mediator in a horde of blazing headcases who get off at the piercing
screams and whiplash hair that twirls round and round.

It was my turn to be struck, my mouth falling open like a brain-dead goldfish. The audacity,
something I hadn’t prepared for. My dad chuckles. A mockery chuckle. I scan him, trying to
sense if he’s offended. He’s not; maybe it's because he was too much of a metal expert to let it
affect him. He tells the boy that he was the one who got me into “this kind of music” and that his
love for such an enraged sound began before the boy’s existence was even thought of. Even as
the conversation carried towards another subject, I stood, wondering how the boy concluded my
dad must’ve had no interest in the particular music. Was it his appearance? Because you
would've won the lottery before you found a black person at a metal concert? Was it because he
didn’t look fervent, easily angered? Sure, he looked out of place, but by many’s standards, I did
too. No one had insinuated that up until then. It was like a secret everyone knew. Us being here
was a rarity, and we flourished upon it.

I wonder how my father would deal with being in a mosh pit. I don’t think he’d mind; the
pushing and shoving extracting joyful giggles. Though, I can’t see him jumping in circles,
howling frantically but the group in front of me doesn’t see him being here... at all. One thing I
do know is that those in the pit wouldn’t bat an eye to step on his nice sneakers or notice the
bright red jacket. My dad would just exist and I don’t think he would oppose it.

You know when a mosh pit begins. A circle swells in the center of the room; people are ushered
to the side and those who dare are held back, leaning forward from the edges, awaiting
countdown. The more you attend heavy metal concerts, the more you’re prepared. The quicker
you are at scurrying your ass to the side or squeezing yourself further into the crowd so you’re
surrounded by collateral bodies who will take the clash for you. If you’re tall enough, you’ll
begin to see, at the singer’s command, a rush of collusion. As if people become less than they
are. They become visions, blurs, flashes of images. They are too fast, too rowdy to keep a
watchful eye. You get dizzy just watching them. Sometimes they come for you, slamming into
your side like go-carts; careless and inattentive. This is where the injuries occur, even death.


I learned early on that it’s hard to see a swastika tattoo in the dark. Sure, strobe lights and beams
slice through the crowd, and maybe I can see the grin on my father’s face beside me, but even
crowded together, hip to hip, chest to back, breath to skin, thinking you know someone becomes
harder when you physically can’t see them. This time, his tattoo was practically pressed up
against my cheek. I could see the bolded lines where the artist must’ve gone over to give it better
definition. It was surrounded by red, the color of blood that drips to the chin of those who can’t
out-fight the pit.

I cursed in my head. Why, of all the people in this room?

I eyed him warily but he was too focused on the escalating howls and ragged breaths of those
who were ready to take the plunge. The man, with the tattoo that said far too much about him,
turned to me, took a few steps, angled his body, and blocked me from the raging crowd. He
looked down and smiled. I have a young daughter, too, he said. He looked at my father and
nodded his head. Respect passing through invisible wires. It was then I had an unlikely protector.
Someone willing to face the brute force so I wouldn’t be vulnerable to the anarchy. I didn’t look
like his daughter, but hell, he didn’t look like the hero of someone’s story either.


The crowd carried me away from the man with the tattoo. I wonder where he is, what he’s doing,
if he’s added paint to his body. I wonder where his mind is; if it is tortured, or clear or doubtful. I
wonder if my eyes squinted, accessing him, the way the highschooler did me. Did my emotion
show on my face? Did he, too, limit me to what he saw?

Look like. We use the term too freely. It is the first thing that comes to mind. You like look, she
looks like, they look like, I look like.

We are minimized to assumption, association. We are common fact. We are bewildered to know
there are black sheeps running freely in the world, that someone dared break from their cell. Like
the dawning pit of mosh, we are reduced to our simplest form, because seeing past it means
there’s something deeper that lies beneath. A worth too ignorant to be acknowledged.

The guy squeezes his way through. He stands besides me and gives me a look asking to pass.
Respectfully, I move instantly. I watch him weave through, and pause before he cuts into the pit,
waiting for the perfect moment. I’m in awe as he’s carried in with ease. I wonder if I too would
pause, before falling free. There is a split in the motion; a window for me to join them.

I could trip. Maybe they’ll pick you up.
I like calm. Maybe you’ll like the havoc, too.

Go now. Or now. Damn it, just go.

Ok, fine.


A mosh pit is the executioner of prejudices. There, your identity is erased. Nobody knows the
tone of your skin or your gender, or the chain belt hitting your thigh, or the scar on your cheek.
No one knows of the tattoos that decorate you and too quick to pass to notice your absence of
deodorant. You can like metal, and country, and jazz, and opera. Everyone is subjected to the
ground level; that list of expectations sweating out through the body. Everyone becomes one.
One body, one motion, one entity; connected through a shared love of heavy metal. To be in the
pit is to accept the peers who have entered with you, whether you like it or not. Here, lying
behind the chaos of bodies, harmony is found.

But we don’t care about that. The music is about to start.


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